etevan Melua, known as Ketino to her family, was born to Amiran and Tamara Melua in Kutaisi, Georgia, which was then part of the Soviet Union.
She spent her first years with her grandparents in Tbilisi before moving with her parents and brother to the town of Batumi, Ajaria, where her father worked as a heart specialist. During this time Melua sometimes had to carry buckets of water up five flights of stairs to her family’s flat and according to her, “Now, when I’m staying in luxurious hotels, I think back to those days”.
In 1993, in the aftermath of the Georgian Civil War, the family moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where her father took up a position at the prestigious Royal Victoria Hospital. The family remained in Belfast, living close to Falls Road, until Melua was thirteen. During her time in Northern Ireland, Melua attended St. Catherine’s Primary School on the Falls Road and later moved to Dominican College, Fortwilliam.
The Melua family then moved to Sutton, London, and some time later moved again to Redhill, Surrey. In 2008 Melua moved out of her parents’ home in Maida Vale to an apartment in Notting Hill, where she transformed the spare bedroom into a recording studio. Melua speaks Georgian, Russian and English fluently and is partly of Canadian and Russian ancestry.
Education and religion
lthough she is a baptised Georgian Orthodox Christian, whilst living in Belfast, Melua attended the Roman Catholic schools St Catherine’s Primary School and Dominican College, Fortwilliam, while her younger brother attended Protestant schools.
After completing her GCSEs at the all-girls’ grammar school Nonsuch High School in Cheam, Sutton, Melua attended the BRIT School for the Performing Arts in the London Borough of Croydon, undertaking a BTEC with an A-level in music.
Melua has not attended university, though she has often stated her desire to do so, saying that English literature, history and physics would be her courses of choice should she have the chance to go to university.
n 10 August 2005, Melua became a British citizen with her parents and brother. The citizenship ceremony took place in Weybridge, Surrey. On gaining British nationality, Melua was eligible for a British passport. Becoming a British citizen meant that Melua had held three citizenships before she was 21; first Soviet, then Georgian and finally British.
After the ceremony, Melua stated her pride at her newest nationality. “As a family, we have been very fortunate to find a happy lifestyle in this country and we feel we belong.
We still consider ourselves to be Georgian, because that is where our roots are, and I return to Georgia every year to see my uncles and grandparents, but I am proud to now be a British citizen.”
elua is occasionally referred to as an ‘adrenaline junkie’ because she enjoys roller coasters and fun fairs and often paraglides and hang glides.
She has skydived four times and taken several flying lessons, and in 2004 she was lowered from a 200 metre building in New Zealand at 60 mph. When asked about Melua being an ‘adrenaline junkie’, Mike Batt said, “she enjoys extremes, but in life her emotions are always in check.”
In November 2009, Melua came near to drowning after she breathed in and choked on a lungful of water when diving in a lake near Heathrow Airport.
In September 2010, Melua was ordered by her doctors to stop working for a few months after suffering a nervous breakdown, resulting in her hospitalisation for six weeks. As a result, all touring and promotional activities were postponed until the following year.
In January 2012, Melua confirmed her engagement to World Superbike racer James Toseland. The couple married on 1 September 2012 at the Royal Botanical Gardens in London.
ue to her upbringing in politically unstable Georgia and troubled Belfast, Melua initially planned to become either a historian or a politician.
This changed in 2000, at the age of fifteen, when Melua took part in a talent competition on British television channel ITV called “Stars Up Their Noses” (a spoof of Stars in Their Eyes) as part of the children’s programme Mad for It!.
Melua won the contest by singing Badfinger’s “Without You”. The prize was £350 worth of MFI vouchers, with which she bought a chair for her father. Had she lost the contest, she would have been gunged.
BRIT School and Mike Batt
fter completing her GCSEs, Melua attended the BRIT School for the Performing Arts in the London Borough of Croydon, undertaking a BTEC with an A-level in music. When studying at the school, Melua began to write songs and met her future manager and producer, Mike Batt.
While performing at BRIT School showcase, Melua caught the eye of songwriter and producer Mike Batt. Batt was originally looking for an acid-rock band, bass player and a singer capable of singing “jazz and blues in an interesting way”.
After hearing Melua sing “Faraway Voice” (a song she wrote about the death of her idol Eva Cassidy) Batt signed the 18 year-old Melua to his small Dramatico recording and management company and took her into the studio, producing her first three albums during the ensuing years.
Acting and modelling
elua appeared in a segment of the 2007 film Grindhouse, written by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. The segment in which Melua appeared, entitled “Don’t”, was a faux trailer, directed by Edgar Wright and produced in the style of a 1970s’ Hammer House of Horror film trailer.
In 2009, Melua was named as the new face of the leading French cashmere designer, Eric Bompard.
World record holder
n 2 October 2006, Melua entered the Guinness Book of Records for playing the deepest underwater concert 303 metres below sea level on the Norwegian Statoil’s Troll A platform in the North Sea.
Melua and her band underwent extensive medical tests and survival training in Norway before flying by helicopter to the rig. Melua later described achieving the record as “the most surreal gig I have ever done”. Melua’s concert is commemorated in the DVD release Concert Under the Sea, released in June 2007.
n November 2004 Melua was asked to take part in Band Aid 20 in which she joined a chorus of British and Irish pop singers to create a rendition of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to raise money for famine relief in Africa. Then in March 2005, Melua sang “Too Much Love Will Kill You” with Brian May at the 46664 concert in George, South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s HIV charity.
Melua had been a fan of Queen since her childhood in Georgia when her uncles played the band’s music, so performing with May was a realisation of a childhood dream.
Later in 2005, through her role as a goodwill ambassador to the charity Save the Children, Melua went to Sri Lanka where she observed the work the charity was doing for children in the area after the civil war and Indian Ocean tsunami. In 2006 Melua donated all the proceeds from her single “Spider’s Web” to the charity.
On 7 July 2007 Melua performed at the German leg of Live Earth in Hamburg and in December of that year, Melua released a cover of the Louis Armstrong song “What A Wonderful World” in which she sang with a recording of the late Eva Cassidy. All profits from the single, which entered the UK singles chart at No. 1 on 16 December 2007, went to the Red Cross.
Melua has visited Oxfam charity shops for many years, using them frequently to buy her clothing. She has stated that this is related as much to her dislike of spending and glamour as it is to her support for the charity, and admits that she looks “like a tramp” and that her hairdresser playfully calls her look “the Romanian window cleaner”.
Katie is also patron of Fair Trees, the organisation that is trying to stop exploitation of cone pickers in Ambrolauri, Georgia by the European Christmas tree industry.
The local people in this region of Georgia are paid a pittance to risk their lives climbing 30m high fir trees to collect the cones from which the seeds are extracted and sent to Christmas tree nurseries in Europe.
Until Fair Trees came along these cone pickers were given no safety equipment or training, no health insurance and very little pay; every year people are injured and even killed doing this hazardous work. This cause is close to Katie’s heart as she was born in Georgia. Fair Trees grow and sell the only fair trade Christmas trees in the world (certified by the WFTO) and are campaigning to change things in Georgia.
n April 2006, for The Sun newspaper, Melua chose fourteen pieces of her favourite music that she enjoyed and had the biggest musical influence on her.
The pieces she chose were Paul Simon’s “Hearts and Bones”, Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, Joni Mitchell’s “Marcie”, Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War”, James Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You)”, Chuck Berry’s “No Particular Place to Go”, Portishead’s “Glory Box”, Björk’s “The Pleasure Is All Mine”, Camille’s “Au Port”, Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name”, Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy”, Finley Quaye’s “Even After All”, Suzanne Vega’s “Caramel” and Babyshambles’ “Fuck Forever”.
Melua has said on numerous occasions how Queen were a huge influence on her as a child/teenager, with one of her memories of music being her uncle playing records by Queen and Led Zeppelin.
She performed with Queen at the 46664 concert in South Africa in March 2005.
Melua appeared on the BBC’s The Culture Show in November 2006 advocating Paul McCartney as her choice in the search for Britain’s greatest living icon.